Crowd sourcing is a key retrospective technique.

Crowd sourcing is a key retrospective technique.

Even though there are many different techniques for executing retrospectives, many teams find one or two techniques they like, and then they ride that horse until it collapses.  As we noted in Retrospectives: Obstacles, every Scrum Master and team should have a broad array of retrospective techniques, such as the sailboat technique, the Four L’s or the timeline.  This provides at least two benefits. First, knowing many techniques means that you can match the technique to the particular teams. For example, many techniques use physical sticky notes, which are difficult for distributed teams. So, the Scrum Master needs to know that you can substitute an on-line mind mapping tool for sticky notes.  Second, having a wide range of techniques (and using them) is a formula for beating technique fatigue and the resulting obstacle.

List generation techniques are the most popular class of retrospective techniques.  The list generation techniques are popular because they take very little set-up, are easy to explain, easy to facilitate and get results. Listing techniques build on well understood brainstorming techniques to ensure the whole team has a voice.  Before, we described how to do a retrospective using a simple listing and grouping technique, also called Affinity Diagraming.

Another technique in the listing category would be the Sailboat technique.  This method uses a nautical metaphor.  The boat moves through the water toward a goal (the team delivering functionality), the wind pushes the boat forward.  As the boat moves through the water, it encounters resistance which slows its progress. Examples of resistance might include conflicts for needed resources or conflicting organization goals.   Here is the process:

  1. Set-up: Start by drawing a picture of a sailboat in the water on your white board or flip chart. Explain to the team that some things push forward, like the wind, and some things slow your progress down, like an anchor.
  2. Idea Generation: Ask the team to identify what those items were.  List one item per sticky note, which are then placed on the boat.  As a facilitator, I will continue to tweak the seed questions I am using to keep the team thinking about the sprint from different angles.  You are done when the team is done.
  3. Insight Development: Have the team review the data and group ideas based on how they see the relationships between individual ideas. Techniques like Mute Mapping (grouping without talking) help to maximize team participation while minimizing the chance of a single person dominating.  Once THE grouping is done, I typically ask the team to name each group. This helps to cement the group’s understanding of the groupings of ideas that they have generated.
  4. Identify Improvement Objective: Select a group or specific idea to fix.  There are a number of techniques to select the improvement objective. Discussion followed by group consensus is one method (I use this when it is apparent that the group is close to consensus).  Another method is to vote using dots or post-it flags. In this method give each member a fixed number of flags and then ask them to vote (they can use all votes on one item or spread them).  The item or group with highest number of votes gets fixed first.

Examples of other listing techniques include:

The Four Ls – Use four categories: liked, learned, lacked, and longed for to generate ideas. Write these titles on four flip charts and place around the room.  Have each person silently generate ideas based on those categories.  When the team is done (i.e. everyone stops writing) have the team place their ideas (written on sticky notes) on the appropriate flip chart. Once the team has come up with their lists, identify the improvement objective, usually from the lacked or longed for category.

What Went . . . – Use four flip charts, put one of the following titles on each flip chart: what went well, what did not go well and what should we do more of and what should we do less of.  Brainstorm ideas to put on each flip chart.  Put one idea or statement on each sticky.  Depending on the group, this method can be done non-verbally (everyone puts their ideas on a set of stickies like the Four L’s) or have the team write ideas down and then shout them out (more akin to classic brainstorming). Insight development and identifying the improvement objective would follow a similar path to what was described above.

There are many other listing techniques each using a different set of seed questions (e.g. What worked well? or What would you like to do more of?) or different metaphors (e.g. sailboat, motorboats or trees). The questions or metaphors exist to help the team focus their discussion.  The metaphor or seed questions that are used need to make sense to the team’s culture, and also solicit areas that they are concerned about or can be improved. The Scrum Master or facilitator needs to use their observations about the team to select the retrospective technique that will provide the greatest benefit . I have seen teams of engineers that did not like using techniques that used metaphors (like the sailboat), while a UI team I worked with loved techniques that used metaphors. All of these techniques can work selecting which you will use is matter of team culture.

We will discuss techniques that are not list based here.

Related Entries:

Retrospectives: A Basic Process Overview

Retrospectives: Retrospectives versus a Classic Post-Mortem, Mindset Differences

Retrospectives: Obstacles

Retrospectives: Non-listing Techniques

Retrospectives: A Social Event